Friday, 17 June 2016

Nuclear Spot-the-difference #8

I wonder if readers have previously noticed the similarity in appearance between Ayatollah Ali Khameni, and emeritus nuclear physics professor Bill Gelletly of the University of Surrey?

Khameni
Gelletly

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Why I'm voting "In"

There is a lot of commentary out there at the moment on whether voters in the UK should elect to leave the EU ("Brexit") or stay in it.  Here's my contribution.

Brexit, science & the economy


Part of the remit of this blog is to do with the environment under which scientific research takes place, and many scientists have been vocal in supporting the UK staying in the EU.  Here, for example, is a letter from 13 nobel science laureates.  It's no wonder that us academics are by and large in favour of staying in.  We tend to be fairly international in our outlook.  Our profession is about education and research and borders are only a hindrance to those things.  The government's anti-immigration rhetoric and policies usually have a detrimental effect on higher education, irrespective of the current EU referendum.  Much of the science-related debate regarding the EU has been about funding.  The UK wins a lot of EU research grants, and this source of funding would be thrown into doubt by us leaving the EU.  The small group of pro-Brexit scientists that are campaigning on a "scientists for Britain" platform have tried to argue that we would probably still be able to apply for EU funding in the sciences.  That's not what happened to Switzerland, though, when they tried to limit immigration and freedom of movement.  They lost the right to bid for EU science funding, and to participate in the Erasmus+ scheme for student and staff mobility.  Eventually -- yesterday -- the Leave campaign said they would match funding for science if any were lost by us leaving the EU.  Not that they are in the position to make such promises, but it was a strong admissions that leaving would be, on the face of it, bad for science, that the needed to make such a promise.  The small group of pro-Brexiters that self-identify as scientists only go to show that turkeys sometimes vote for Christmas, and that they don't prioritise science too highly in their reasons for wanting to leave.

The left-wing case for leaving the EU


There is a left-wing case for leaving the EU.  It's summed-up in the beginning of this article.  Much of the population of Greece might understand very well that the EU promotes the interests of capital and those that control it over the interests of people in general.  Not only that, but the choice we are facing in this referendum is between the pissy half-in membership of the EU that our government has negotiated and being completely out.  But the version of completely-out that we are being offered is one on the terms of the likes of Farage, Gove, and Johnson.  An out vote will be a vote for a right-wing future.  A one based on fear of foreigners and a distaste for a communal approach to things like human rights.  There is no left-wing exit option on the table this time.  Left-wingers who promote voting "leave" at this referendum are only useful idiots.  The rest of the article I link to at the top of this paragraph goes over the arguments, as does this one

"I want my country back"


The economic arguments regarding the leave–stay campaign have been won by the remain campaign, it seems.  But okay -- I think most Brexiters' primary concerns are to do with ideas of democracy and being able to have democratic control over the country (particularly borders).  I think the same arguments apply here as they do in the left-wing argument.  Since Thatcher, and possibly earlier, we have handed over control of our country to the controllers of capital, rather than in favour of the populace.  What exactly would  we be getting "back"?   A neoliberal Utopia is not really getting our country back, I don't think.  Are Brexiters hoping that we will somehow get a 1950s version of England?  Complete with child abuse and the ability to make racial or homophobic slurs with impunity?  I don't think there is any prospect of getting anything "back" that people asking for getting our country back want.  (Oh, and if you want to read actual evidence on what immigration does for us, look here).

Ironically, those looking to make this a kind of united United Kingdom against the rest of the EU seem likely to find themselves having facilitated the break-up of the UK.  What is for sure if we leave the EU battle is that we will have revealed that the population of the UK is not at all united in how it sees its relation with Europe -- indeed, that has already been shown.  Of course, the majority can impose its views on the rest -- that is how democracy works.  What they can't do is claim that we have somehow returned to the natural unit of concordant nationality.  They will have disproved all their arguments, and they can contemplate that if a newly independent Scotland re-joins their fellow Europeans.  I wouldn't blame them if they did.

Thursday, 9 June 2016

Nuclear Physics Spot-The-Difference #7

I wonder if readers have previously noticed the similarity in appearance between composer John Adams, and nuclear physics professor Phil Woods of the University of Edinburgh?



Adams
Woods

Wednesday, 8 June 2016

New element names

The announcement came through today that the elements 113, 115, 117, and 118 now have names suggested by the discoverers and recommended for acceptance by the official committee that deals with such things.  There is now a public review, ending on 8th November 2016, but I can't see any reason why the names will not stand.  They are:

113: Nihonium, after Japan, where the element was discovered
115: Moscovium, since the element 115 effort was a collaboration involving a research lab in Dubna, in Russia's Moscow Oblast
117: Tennessine, honouring the role of Tennessee in the collaboration, with scientists from Oak Ridge National Lab, UT Knoxville, and Vanderbilt University (Nashville) involved in the work.  The different ending to the element name comes from the fact that element 117 sits in the halogens which conventionally end with the –ine suffix.
118: Oganesson, after Yuri Oganessian, who for many years has been the driving force of the superheavy element group at Dubna.  The –on ending is thanks to element 118 sitting in the noble gas column of the periodic table. That's Yuri Oganessian in the picture attached to this post.  Well done Yuri, and everyone else involved in the discoveries.


Saturday, 28 May 2016

Line of Control

I saw a tweet earlier today relevant to both my current geographical location (Indian-controlled Kashmir) and matters nuclear.  It was from the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organisation and pointed to a blog / news post of its own.  It pointed out that 28th May is the anniversary of Pakistan's series of nuclear bomb tests which took place over three days starting on 28th May 1998.  

I'm in Kashmir, through which runs an contested border between India and Pakistan.  While I'm in the Indian part of Kashmir, in the capital Srinagar, the nearest national capital to where I am is Islamabad, about 100 miles away.  I read in the article that the bomb tests took place "in the eastern part of the country" but a quick look at the map they show in the post indicates that actually it was in the west of Pakistan, quite far from where I am now.  It also reminded me that I am currently in one of the nine nuclear weapons states.  In fact it is the fifth one I have been to this year (following the UK, US, France & China).  I expect to go Russia in September.   Now perhaps I need to arrange trips to Pakistan, North Korea, and Israel.

The de facto border between India and Pakistan up here in Kashmir is called the Line of Control.  I was amused by the sign (shown in the photo) used in the coffee shop next to the guesthouse on campus which indicated where the staff area was, where the public is not supposed to enter.

Friday, 27 May 2016

Does dark matter cause cancer?

A quick post today while I distract myself from the stack of marking that piles up at this time of year.  This is one I fully expect to appear on the front page of the Daily Mail or the Express:  I saw today that there is a new article in the journal Physics Letters B entitled Dark Matter as a Cancer Hazard.  I haven't read it in detail (perhaps someone who does could make their own post or comment below) but it's an assessment of whether some popular candidates for dark matter could undergo the same kind of interaction with atomic nuclei that might cause a DNA mutation that other kinds of known radiation can do.  

We don't know if the kind of dark matter used in the paper even exists.  If it does, there's not a whole lot we could do about it anyway, but it'd be kinda interesting if it is a background cause of cancer -- and it would mean that we effectively have detected this kind of dark matter without realising it